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MTV to acquire maker of music-oriented games

Purchase of Harmonix intended to allow MTV's Web visitors ability to play along with, remix their favorite songs.

MTV, the cable TV channel some critics have accused of straying too far from its musical roots, is to acquire Harmonix Music Systems, a maker of music-oriented video games, for $175 million in cash.

Harmonix's main product, Guitar Hero, is a console game developed for Sony's PlayStation 2 that equips players with a simulator that looks like a guitar while promising them the ability to feel like a rock star without knowing how to play music or even leaving their bedroom.

The goals of the deal, which is to be announced Friday, are broader than putting the MTV logo on a Harmonix game box: For instance, the company wants to offer visitors to its Web sites, its new virtual worlds and its planned mobile services the ability to play along with, or remix, their favorite songs.

"It is about people coming to MTV who are passionate about music and wanting to interact on deeper and deeper levels," said Christina Norman, the president of MTV. "It's not just about wearing the T-shirt."

Norman insisted that music video was alive and well at MTV, particularly with its spin-off channels and Web offshoots. "Realistically speaking, there is more music available on all of the platforms of MTV--wherever the audience wants it--than there has ever been before," she said in an interview.

The purchase of Harmonix by MTV Networks, the cable-programming unit of Viacom, is the second music-related digital acquisition by a media conglomerate recently. Last week, News Corp. acquired control of Jamba, a seller of ring tones and other products for mobile phones, for $188 million.

In addition to Guitar Hero, Harmonix has developed a line of karaoke game prograMTV executives said they hoped to promote those programs, but also make them available on its Web sites and in VMTV, the digital virtual world it is introducing next year.

Harmonix is based in Cambridge, Mass., and was founded by Alex Rigopulos, its chief executive, and Eran Egozy, its chief technology officer, who are both staying with the company.